A riveting program launched the 30th season of Ballet BC, Vancouver's darling dance troupe, and hints at a fiery undercurrent beneath this city's usually mellow cool. The November opener is a little later than typical season starts in other companies, but the polished performance was worth the wait. The show left no doubt as to the dancers' physical capabilities – noticeably improved from the previous season in their explosive power, halting precision, and greater cohesion. They also seemed to be settling into their own distinct voice. 

<i>Twenty Eight Thousand Waves</i> © Michael Slobodian
Twenty Eight Thousand Waves
© Michael Slobodian
Cayetano Soto's dramatic Twenty Eight Thousand Waves opened with spotlights hung at chest level of four female dancers dressed in men's shirts, moving through poses in their anchored spaces. The spotlights rose row by row as pairs of male dancers appeared from the darkness upstage to engage in partnering phrases with a female before pulling her swiftly upstage. Existence is worryingly fleeting. The dancers appear and reappear in ebbs and flows. They repeatedly dart across the stage in determined sprints. Some stride unyieldingly  in a row behind couples in entangled duets. A dancer continuously contorts while others come to a halt around her. Yet, without acknowledging her presence, they raise doubt to whether they inhabit the same realm. These contrasts were amplified by dramatic light and shadow (lighting design also by Soto), and played well to the ghostly vocal chimes. Soto was inspired by a fact he had read, that oil rigs are subjected to the pounding of twenty-eight thousand waves a day. The dancers showed immense physicality, bending and twisting into exaggerated forms and swinging through the acrobatic duets. However varied the textures, the movements were carried out in the same saturated tone. While viscerally affecting, the unrestrained onslaught fails to capture the potential depth of its impact. As the curtain closed on a female dancer still moving through a frantic solo, it raised our anxiety towards her fate while providing a welcome reprieve from the visual assault. 

Awe is a world première choreographed by Stijn Celis, accompanied by Vancouver's Chor Leoni Men's Choir performing music by Piotr Janczak, Carl Orff, Eriks Esenvalds and text by Leonard Cohen. The piece opened to a bare stage in silence, with three men arching and hunching while another kneeled in angst towards stage right. Spotlights (lighting design by James Proudfoot) created a faint veil of overlapping rectangles above the stage before receding to the dim illumination of the choir upstage. Twelve male and female dancers dressed indiscriminately in coloured shirts and pants remained gender-neutral throughout the piece, and their relationships were told through the various dynamics of their interaction. A female dancer clutches desperately onto the back of a male dancer. There is an exploration of tension and confrontation with pairs of dancers who run at each other and stop on contact just before collision. At one point, the ensemble forms a circle and moves as one in a rare expression of collective unity. The dancers seemed at ease in this world première, which we can likely attribute to the fact that the choreography drew largely on the company's existing aesthetic – hyper-articulated gestures, arms desperately clawing at the extremes of one's peripheral, exaggerated stops and starts at moments of contact and entangling duets.

The evening was capped by the beautifully emotive Solo Echo, by Crystal Pite, set to Brahms' cello sonatas (Op.38 in E minor and Op.99 in F major). It was a homecoming for Pite, the former Ballet BC dancer, who, since her choreographic debut in 1990, also at Ballet BC, has gone on to become one of the most celebrated choreographers worldwide. White flakes evoking snow falling upstage were dramatically lit by a horizontal light, cutting a wide rectangle across the otherwise dark backdrop. The falling flakes were a meter of passing time, against which the relationships between the seven dancers played out in their own cadence.

Ballet BC in Crystal Pite's <i>Solo Echo</i> © Michael Slobodian
Ballet BC in Crystal Pite's Solo Echo
© Michael Slobodian
Pite explores fully the company's physical capacity yet her characters always remain human. Inventive partnering lent great visual effect but more prominent were the unique forms of intimacy conveyed. In one striking duet, a female dancer lay on her back with each foot propped against the back of her male partner's ankles. They expressed an unconscious interdependency as he sent her body sliding with each backward step. The piece ends with a dancer lying down upstage, left by his companions with white flakes still falling, accumulating over him. Despite the stillness in one's existence, time is still passing.

Visual images abound in this season opener and delivered a highly visceral experience. The company has demonstrated immense physical capacity and its depth will continue to be tested by the works to come this season.